Spain pays tribute to coronavirus victims, workers at state event

Spain holds a state ceremony in Madrid in honour of Spain's 28,413 COVID-19 victims and essential workers.

    Spain's King Felipe VI, second from left, praised the citizens' response to the outbreak [Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP]
    Spain's King Felipe VI, second from left, praised the citizens' response to the outbreak [Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP]

    Spain has paid tribute to the nation's victims of the new coronavirus and workers who put their lives at risk during the worst of the pandemic with a solemn state ceremony in Madrid.

    Relatives of about 100 people who died during the pandemic, representatives of medical personnel, police and other essential workers on Thursday joined King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, government members and officials from the European Union and the World Health Organization at an esplanade in Madrid's Royal Palace.

    The guests, masked and seated in a socially distanced fashion surrounding a central cauldron, included representatives from a dozen religious organisations and ambassadors. The ceremony was shown live on television and online.

    In an emotional speech, Hernando Calleja said he was sharing the pain of the loss of his brother Jose Maria, a well-known journalist and writer in Madrid, with other relatives of "anonymous" victims.

    "Let's not forget that the coronavirus was and continues to be a cold, cruel and wrecking executioner," Calleja said.

    Madrid Spain event for coronavirus victims
    The guests were masked and seated in a socially distanced fashion surrounding a central cauldron [Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP]

    Aroa Lopez, a nurse from the Vall d'Hebron hospital in Barcelona, spoke representing workers in hospitals, health centres and laboratories, at least 52,600 of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

    She also remembered truck drivers, cleaners and thousands of others who "took care of the millions of Spaniards who were confined".

    After telling how some health workers made video calls between relatives and dying patients, or held the hands of those who did not want to die alone, she urged politicians to protect the public health system.

    "Who will take care of us if the person who takes care of us cannot do it? Let us never forget the lesson learned," she said.

    As a live performance of string music took over from the words, attendees left white roses by the cauldron. 

    The country's monarch praised the citizens' response to the outbreak and called for responsible behaviour in fighting the virus.

    Spain Madrid event for coronavirus victims
    Officials from the EU and the WHO joined the event at an esplanade in Madrid's Royal Palace [Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP]

    "We have a moral obligation to always recognise and respect the dignity of the deceased and a civic duty to promote the best values that underlie our society," Felipe VI said before the ceremony came to an end with a minute of silence.

    All Spanish political parties attended the state tribute except for the far-right Vox, whose leader has called the event an "act of propaganda" and "an exculpatory ceremony" for the left-wing ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

    Spain has officially recorded 28,413 patients who died after testing positive for the COVID-19 disease, although excess mortality figures suggest the actual figure is thousands higher.

    The country is grappling with dozens of fresh outbreaks after it emerged from a strict lockdown last month.

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    SOURCE: News agencies